Sam Greenhill and Martin Robinson, Daily Mail, February 3, 2015
Britain’s first elected Muslim mayor was accused in court yesterday of running a ‘den of iniquity’ and systematically stealing votes.
In a rare electoral fraud trial, Lutfur Rahman is alleged to have ‘subverted democracy’ by masterminding a campaign of corruption and intimidation to rig his re-election last year.
Muslim voters were left in tears at the ballot box after being warned it was a ‘sin’ not to back the controversial mayor, the High Court heard.
Barrister Francis Hoar said: ‘Mr Rahman has been the most senior elected executive in Tower Hamlets for almost seven years and mayor for over four of them.
‘Yet Lutfur Rahman expects this court to believe that he was unaware of any corruption, any malpractice, any foul play.
‘That he knew nothing of the false registration of voters, of the diversion of public funds to pay for his support… or of fraud. An innocent amidst a den of iniquity. Only this court may now judge.’
Mr Hoar added that anyone who challenged Rahman’s crooked practices was branded ‘racist or Islamophobic’. But after neither the police nor any other public body challenged Rahman, a private petition was launched by four residents of Tower Hamlets, which was described as a ‘rotten borough’ by Communities Secretary Eric Pickles last year.
Andrew Erlam, Debbie Simone, Azmal Hussein and Angela Moffat face a six-figure legal bill to bring their action. Mr Hussein, a local restaurateur, said they had even been charged £6,000 by the police to obtain documents in support of their private case. The court heard that the children of electoral rivals received death threats on their mobiles, postal ballots were doctored, elderly voters were manipulated and an army of ‘ghost voters’ was registered.
Rahman allegedly funnelled hundreds of thousands of pounds of public money to organisations run by his cronies. Rahman, 49, won the poll in May with 51.8 per cent of the vote. He had formed his own party, Tower Hamlets First, after being expelled by Labour.
Yesterday the four campaigners sat in court as their barrister Mr Hoar opened the case before Electoral Commissioner Richard Mawrey QC. The electoral judge said £65,000-a-year Rahman–who did not attend yesterday’s hearing–would be stripped of his mayoralty if the allegations were proven.
Mr Hoar said his clients had lined up 100 witnesses, but many had reported ‘threats of violence, threats to their families in Bangladesh, pressure from their employers and pressure from their communities’. Some were so afraid, they would not take the witness stand even if ordered by the judge, he added.
Mr Hoar said: ‘Since the beginning of his political career, he has been prepared to take whatever steps, use whatever means, recruit whatever support, to obtain power–power for himself, power for his friends and most importantly, power over his community.’
He said the evidence would show Rahman to be ‘a liar and perjurer’, and claimed there was ‘overwhelming evidence’ that he was aware of, and encouraged, the corruption.
Quoting ancient Greek playwright Sophocles, he added: ‘Lutfur Rahman would not “rather fail with honour than succeed by fraud”.’
Before election day last year, residents–‘often elderly and with little English’–would be approached by canvassers with applications for postal votes, Mr Hoar said.
‘Supporters of Lutfur Rahman told voters that “you do not have to go and vote yourself, just give us the card and we will sort it out for you”.’ There were numerous examples of men ordering women how to vote or voting for them, it was claimed.
Rahman was leader of the Tower Hamlets Labour group from 2008 to 2010, during which time ‘his career of corruption, his career of intimidation, his career of fraud began’, Mr Hoar said.
In a referendum in 2010 on whether the borough should have an elected mayor, Town Hall staff said ‘half the signatures appeared to have been forged,’ the court heard.
Labour dropped Rahman as its mayoral candidate after deciding he was a stooge for the Islamic Forum for Europe, a ‘secret society’ which wants to create a sharia state.
Rahman stood as an independent and won the 2010 mayoral election. He sacked the council’s chief executive and assumed his powers.
The court heard he personally made ‘all the decisions’ and demanded to see lists of organisations shortlisted for council grants, vetoing many.
In his first four years as mayor, he and his acolytes allegedly over-ruled council officers’ recommendations in 81 per cent of grant applications–and awarded £637,000 to 30 organisations that did not even meet the minimum standards for consideration.
At his re-election in May 2014, Rahman’s supporters were an intimidating presence at polling stations and did not ‘give a damn about the law… as long as their man got elected’, Mr Hoar said.
Forensics expert Robert Radley, who examined ballot papers, concluded in some areas that half of the ‘X’ marks were forgeries.
Bangladeshi-born law graduate Rahman’s reign as mayor has been hit by a string of scandals.
He sparked a storm of protest last July by raising the Palestinian flag over the town hall ‘in solidarity’ with Gaza, and has been criticised for his £42,000-a-year taxpayer-funded chauffeur.
Rahman and the council deny any wrongdoing.
Duncan Penny QC, for Rahman, told the court: ‘There is little if any evidence of personal wrongdoing by Lutfur Rahman.’ He described the claims as ‘invention’, ‘exaggeration’ and ‘in some cases downright deliberately false allegations’.
The case is expected to last seven weeks.